Allergens in Food Labeling

25 February, 2021
If you have a allergy, you need to know how to properly read all food ingredients. There are some allergens that aren't found on the label as is. Learn more in this article!

Most people can eat a wide variety of foods without any problem whatsoever. However, more and more people are becoming allergic to certain food or food components. Therefore, we need to learn how to read the allergens in food labeling to properly identify all food ingredients.

Keep in mind that ingesting a product that can trigger an allergic reaction can be very dangerous. This is why we suggest that you consult a specialist if you suspect that you may be suffering from hypersensitivity to a certain food.

What’s a food allergy and what are its symptoms?

A food allergy is an extreme reaction of the body to food or to one of its components (allergen) that activates the immune system. An allergen triggers a series of chain reactions in an allergic person’s immune system when it encounters substances it detects as foreign.

Symptoms may appear almost immediately, when eating or touching the food, or even inhaling its cooking vapors, even in minute quantities. It can affect any of the following:

  • Skin: hives, redness or itching
  • Lips, mouth, tongue, face and/or throat: inflammation
  • Digestive system: vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea
  • Respiratory system: runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, asthma, coughing, respiratory disorders
  • The whole organism: anaphylaxis, which can lead to death

Allergies to foods or their components are hereditary and are usually identified in the first years of life, with the progressive introduction of foods.

Allergens in food labeling

Have you ever eaten something and felt a reaction in your mouth or even gastrointestinal discomfort? It’s possible that you may be allergic to some ingredient in that product. You may not even know what you’re allergic to, or maybe you just didn’t know it contained a certain allergen. That’s why you need to know how to look at food labels and identify allergens in food labeling.

A woman refusing a plate of food.

What allergens are on labels?

EU9 Regulation No. 1169/2011 of the European Parliament and of the Council of October 25th, 2011, on the food information provided to the consumer, states that the presence of 14 substances that may produce food allergies or intolerances must be declared.

  • Cereals containing gluten
  • Crustaceans
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Peanuts
  • Milk
  • Soybeans
  • Nuts
  • Celery
  • Mustard
  • Sesame
  • Sulfur dioxide and sulfites
  • Lupins
  • Mollusks

If you’re allergic to any of these items or ingredients, or suspect that you may be allergic, you should look at the food labeling, since it’s mandatory for it to be included on the label.

Also read: The Difference Between Milk Allergy and Lactose Intolerance

What are the most common allergies?

Cow’s milk protein

Milk and whey proteins cause cow’s milk allergy, according to a study published in Clinical Pediatrics. This allergy appears in infants when they’re first introduced to the bottle. It usually subsides as they get older, but, until then, it’s important to keep a strict control on their feeding and eliminate all products containing milk.

Milk must be mentioned on labeling, but it should also be indicated on unpackaged foods, for example, in a restaurant. You should also pay particular attention to drugs and additives.

Egg

Both egg white and yolk proteins can act as allergens. Egg is one of the most common allergies in children and usually disappears within the first 6 years. It can also be successfully treated with immunotherapy, according to current scientific literature.

In addition, apart from making sure whether food contains egg as such, you should also be careful with some additives, such as lecithin and E322.

Fish

Three fish on a cutting board.

The proteins in fish, such as the histamine it may contain, can be the cause of allergic reactions. Allergy to white fish is more frequent than to blue fish and John Dory fish, hake, and whiting are some of the most common ones that cause this allergy.

Shellfish

The most common types of shellfish that cause allergy are crustaceans, followed by mollusks. Shellfish allergy is frequent in adulthood and it’s one of the foods that cause the greatest number of allergies. For this reason, the consumer should be informed.

Learn more about: Shellfish Allergies: Symptoms and Treatments

Legumes

The main legume responsible for allergic reactions is lentils, followed by chickpeas. However, you should also pay special attention to thickeners and stabilizers, as many are legume-based. It’s therefore important to keep an eye on labeling. However, legumes, except soybeans and lupins, don’t have to be highlighted, as they aren’t considered allergens at the European level.

Fruits

According to experts, it occurs in the Rosaceae family: peach, plum, cherry, apple, etc… It’s very important to look carefully at the labels, as they don’t have to be marked, as well as legumes.

Nuts

Nut allergies are some of the most common and severe allergies. Due to the possible severity of symptoms, people should avoid any contact with nuts. Manufacturers should also list nuts and sesame on the label.

Sulfites

Another allergen on labeling is sulfites. Food manufacturers use them as preservatives in food (fish, seafood, nuts, etc.) and beverages (wine and other alcoholic beverages).

Read labels to avoid allergens

In conclusion, keep in mind that an allergen declaration always appears on the label. Always check it to avoid health problems that can lead to complications. However, if you suspect you’re suffering from an allergy, go to a professional for an accurate diagnosis.

  • Mousan G., Kamat D., Cow’s milk protein allergy. Clin Pediatr, 2016. 55 (11): 1054-63.
  • Graham F., Tardio N., Paradis L., Roches A., et al., Update on oral immunotherapy for egg allergy. Hum Vaccin Immunother, 2017. 13 (10): 2452-2461.
  • Hassan AK., Venkatesh YP., An overview of fruit allergy and the causative allergens. Eur Ann Allergy CLin Immunol, 2015.